Work From Home 2021: Future Trends in Remote Work
Work from home was earlier present to varying degrees in different industries depending on the business context, business operating model and technical readiness. However, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has led many organizations to have all or some of their employees work remotely during the pandemic. While Business and HR Leaders plan for the two key challenges ahead– how to manage remote working in the current uncertain conditions of today and how to best leverage remote work for their organizations in the future, a few trends are emerging which need to be taken into cognizance while determining the way forward.
Future Trend #1: Hybrid Model of Working
The pandemic has certainly upended certain assumptions about how work should be done, shifting employee preferences and organizational policies. Most respondents in a PWC Study said that even post the crisis, they see themselves working remotely for up to 1-2 days/ week.
There is a growing consensus that a Hybrid model of Working will gain currency, wherein a fully in-person and remote work will be two ends of a fluid spectrum of options. HR Leaders would need to use a task-based lens to determine what work can be done remotely and how often; for which a three-part ordered framework might be useful:
- Feasibility: Determine if remote work is possible, for some workforce segments and industries, remote work is not possible wherein employees need to operate equipment/ physical products or must interact face – to – face with customers.
- Portability: Where remote work is possible, identify what work can be done effectively outside the office.
- Sustainability: Navigate follow-on implications for the organization; including policies, processes, technology and organization culture imperatives
Future Trend #2: Enhanced focus on Employee Wellbeing and Virtual Engagement
Studies indicate that lack of social interaction during remote working can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation. This coupled with the blurring of personal and professional boundaries while working from home can significantly augment stress4. Below are key mental health issues faced by employees working remotely as per a PWC Study:
To combat this, employers will need to increase virtual social interactions at work, build in-person touchpoints and allow for flexibility to their employees as they work from home. Additional benefits including reimbursements for chairs/office equipment to be set-up at home may enhance focus and comfort. Most importantly, organizations and individuals alike need to foster intentional engagement strategies to preserve employee engagement, social capital and Organizational Culture.
Future Trend #3: Customized HR Processes
Standardized HR processes would need to be rejigged to meet the needs of a segmented workforce within an organization. For example, Virtual reality augmented onboarding programs offer new hires a curated experience of the organization and virtual tours of the office space can help foster a sense of connectedness to new hires. IKEA is pioneering some of these initiatives with the aim of creating an immersive experience for their new joiners. Similarly, Virtual Cubing helps enhance team connect and clear communication protocols help optimize productivity.
Future Trend #4: More Acceptance of Using non-Traditional Workforces
Over the past decade, numerous start-ups have pioneered the concept of freelance jobs devoid of the rigid structure of traditional jobs. An extension of this concept enables workers to choose their work on a project-by-project basis, enabling them to best allocate time to their personal needs. Remote working may amplify this trend, with employees choosing flexibility and income security from multiple income streams over one steady job. However, concerns over data security and diminished employee rights need to be addressed. As Sarah Kessler notes in her book about the gig economy (Gigged) – “the gig economy can create opportunities for some people, but it can also amplify problems around insecurity, increased risk, lack of stability, and diminished worker rights.”
The tragic context of Covid 19, has catapulted a large proportion of the working world into an unprecedented work from home experiment. Many benefits have emerged, including reduced commute times and fewer sick days, a wader talent pool for the organization increased perception of autonomy and trust in the employer-employee relationship, and reduction in work-family conflict which can be attributed to increased temporal flexibility.
However, certain early-stage challenges (such as a breakdown of organizational social structures, employee mental health, the challenge of preserving organizational culture and enabling technology), have emerged in this model which need to be successfully mitigated, both in the short term to support these flexible arrangements until large-scale vaccine distribution and effectivity is established and in the long term, to enable a Hybrid Remote Working Model for identified populations, which leverages the efficiencies of remote working and at the same time addresses the social and cultural nuances.
- PWC, The COVID-19 Remote Working Experiment
- BCG, 2020, Hybrid Work Is the New Remote Work
- Gartner, 2020, Remote Work After COVID-19
- Kesseler, Sarah; Gigged: The Gig Economy, the End of the Job and the Future of Work
- CII Talentonic HR Solutions (P) Ltd; Whitepaper, Reimagining the Organization for the new Normal – Role of HR